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Program wins national award

Some schools in Covington County have no doubt benefited from having the Alabama Reading Initiative program to help motivate students toward higher literacy levels.

That program recently received

special recognition for the difference it is making in Alabama schools.

The Education Commission of the States presented the Alabama Department of Education and Texas Education Agency with its State Innovation Award Thursday.

The award recognized the states for their accomplishments

in advancing literacy and research-based reading instruction.

The director of the Alabama Reading Initiative, Katherine Mitchell, accepted the award.

"What a great honor for the Alabama Reading Initiative to be recognized for its achievement by some of the finest educators in the nation," said Mitchell.

When the school season begins in the fall, approximately 451 schools will offer the Reading Initiative. In this program, school administrators and teachers will work directly with trained reading specialists to provide scientific-based literacy instruction in the classroom.

Since its inception, the Alabama Reading Initiative has targeted the reading performance of students in the state in three ways, including:

Beginning reading instruction will ensure that kindergarten and first-grade students learn

to read quickly and effectively. It must prevent reading failure in future grades where

intervention efforts are costly.

Instruction explicitly expanding power will occur in Grades 2-12. Students must read

frequently, broadly, strategically and thoughtfully.

Struggling readers will be provided intensive, effective intervention instruction in Grades

K-12. This instruction must be applied as early as possible, be provided by well-trained specialists and accelerate learning significantly.

The program's goal is that 100 percent literacy for students is achievable, through the use of a balanced approach that is rigorous and requires a highly skilled teacher. The teachers are "balanced" when they know how to implement the most effective practices associated with both whole language and phonics orientation.

The program emphasizes expanded reading power through teacher-directed, integrated instruction in comprehension strategies that increases the student's ability to gain meaning and to engage in thoughtful interaction with printed materials, extensive use of varied and abundant authentic printed materials, daily discussions that include literal, interpretive and

evaluative responses.

Those responses are to printed materials that require students to defend their understandings, a motivational component including opportunities for choice in selecting printed materials, social interaction about materials read and incentives resulting in large amounts of student reading, vocabulary expansion through large amounts of reading and explicit instruction and a connected reading and writing program.

The Reading Initiative Program also emphasizes effective intervention by factors such as an accelerated, highly specialized instruction that significantly increases the pace of learning and is based on an on-going assessment, an on-going assessment and evaluation to

monitor student progress and guide instruction and explicit instruction in phonemic

awareness and phonics that enables students to understand how to print maps to speech.

According to the ARI web site, schools are selected for participation in the program based on several factors, including a commitment of at least 85 percent of the school's faculty agreement to set 100 percent literacy as a goal, agreement to attend a 10-day institute and adjust their reading instruction accordingly and agreement to model reading instruction for other schools.

Statistics appear to show that the program is paying off in state schools.

According to the ARI web site, results of an outside evaluation of the program after each of the first three years showed that students in ARI schools scored better on the Stanford Achievement Test than students in comparison schools.